By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian
During the course of its 36-year existence, the Joe Retton Arena has seen some legendary individual performances.
Thursday night Fairmont State’s Stevie Browning put on a late-game show to help the Falcons hold off scrappy Wheeling Jesuit, 80-74, which people are going to be talking about for years to come.
With the game on the line, the 6-3 sophomore guard from Logan single-handedly took it over, scoring 14 consecutive points, the last two of which came on a follow-up jumper with 22 seconds remaining in the game and one second left on the shot clock to give FSU the lead for good at 76-74.
Junior guard Chase Morgan than sealed the victory for the Falcons by going a perfect 4-of-4 from the foul line in the game’s final 10 seconds.
“Coach relied on me, and I thought to myself at that point things aren’t going good on offense so I’ve got to make a play,” said Browning, who finished with a career-high 28 points. “My teammates were willing to do that, and I stepped up and did it.”
Did he ever. Seven consecutive baskets by Browning helped foil a tremendous comeback bid by the Cardinals who rallied from 10 down with 12:07 to play and took a short-lived 66-64 lead with 3:38 remaining. Three of those baskets came off offensive rebounds of his own misses and the final one came off of two missed shots by his teammates.
“Big-time players make big-time plays, and like coach (Jerrod) Calhoun said I think he’s going to be one of the best to ever come through Fairmont,” said Morgan of Browning’s performance. “I have 110 percent confidence in everything he can do. When he started taking over I just went to the corner, spotted up and watched him take over the game. He put on a show for the fans. It was exciting to watch, and it ultimately led to the win for us.”
The victory improved FSU to 9-3 overall and to 4-2 in the Mountain East Conference. Wheeling, which had won five of its last six contests coming into last night, fell to 6-4 overall and to 4-3 in the league.
“I’ve said all along when (Brendan) Cooper went down it was Stevie’s team,” said Calhoun. “I’ve challenged him both on and off the floor to lead this team. There was a point in practice yesterday when things weren’t going that well and he really got on guys and picked it up. He’s a very, very good player. I think he’s going to be one of the best to ever come out of here.
“Stevie’s best games are when he offensive rebounds. The last five minutes or so we just went 1-4 flat, gave him the ball and got out of the way. He made me look like a great coach tonight. This was a huge win for us. Wheeling is very, very good team which is going to win a lot of games.”
The game, which was physical and filled with fouls (46 total) also hopefully marked the return of Morgan to form. The sharp-shooting guard has struggled offensively since suffering a broken eye socket in practice several weeks ago. Last night Morgan finished with a season-high 20 points, including 11 in the crucial second half.
“That was a tough injury for me,” said Morgan. “I’ve never had any type of sports injury before and to have one on my face and my eye in particular was very weird to me. I had to wear the mask, and that wasn’t comfortable.
“I was always confident I’d be able to bounce back, but I really haven’t produced the last few games. This was a big-time game and we needed a big-time performance out of me, Stevie and everyone else for us to get a win. I just felt like I needed to step up in any way, shape or form that I could tonight to help this team. Hopefully now I’m back on track.”
After Browning’s incredible last bucket, FSU’s Shammgod Wells got a five-second call on Wheeling guard Eric Siefert which turned the ball back over to the Falcons with 12 seconds remaining and Fairmont clinging to its 76-74 lead. On the ensuing inbounds play, Morgan was fouled and calmly sank the first two of four free throw attempts he would take in the last 10 seconds to ice the game for his team.
Besides Browning and Morgan, FSU also got 10 points from Thomas Wimbush before he fouled out with 9:17 remaining and nine points and seven rebounds off the bench from center Tommy Scales.
WJU was led by Matt Stewart and Andre Harris, who both finished with 19 points and Seifert, who chipped in 18. Those three players combined for 35 of the Cardinals’ 39 second-half points.
Fairmont State will return to action Saturday at 7 p.m. when it hosts an MEC game with Concord University at the Joe Retton Arena.